Nothing's Ever Free

Nothing pisses off my mom more than when someone tries to give her a discount or something for free. She'll even stop shopping at stores owned by close friends or family if they keep giving her substantial price reductions. She wants to pay full price for everything, and there's no arguing with her about it.

"I came to support you," she'll say, " but you're making it very difficult."

I don't think there's a scenario imaginable that would cause my mom to accept something for free. Let's say a waiter dropped a plate of messy spaghetti and a scalding cup of coffee on my mom's white linen pants, covering them in pasta sauce and burning her legs. This same server might comp my mom's meal to make up for the mishap. In this situation, my mom doesn't get upset until she sees that the waiter has given her free food. She finds this completely unacceptable. She mutters quietly to herself as she fills in a tip that equals five times the amount of the free meal, effectively negating whatever savings she might've been able to use towards dry cleaning her pants and getting a skin graft on her burns.

There are many reasons my mom is so adamant about paying for everything. The most obvious reason she does this is that she's exceptionally generous and gives all she has to the people she loves. Do you want her house? Take it. Do you need to borrow her credit to open a Nordstrom card so you can buy that leather jacket and forget to pay down the balance for a year until she gets sent to collections? Have at it! My mom will gladly allow us to desecrate her excellent credit score until it goes down to 300, which she'll then spend the next ten years building back up just so we can knock it down, again. It's like a mother playing high-stakes blocks with a destructive toddler, except in this scenario the mother ends up having to declare bankruptcy.

My mom's other motivation for wanting to pay for everything is that she doesn't want to come across as a mooch. It flies in the face of the self-sufficiency she's been cultivating since her late teens, which is when she started giving birth to children (ultimately doing this twelve times) while single-handedly running a successful insurance agency. If she takes that discounted coffee, you might think she's incapable of taking care of herself.

Ultimately, I believe my mom doesn't want anything for free because, as she says, "nothing's ever free." While one of her friends might offer to help her organize her closet gratis, she's confident she'll be paying for it some other way. Maybe, at a later date, that same friend will ask my mom to Marie Kondo her closet. Or, her friend might build up resentment because she perceives that my mom isn't calling her enough or being present enough for her liking. Nope. My mom is having none of that. She'd much rather pay for it in cash and have a Marie Kondo contractor to do it for her. Or, better yet, my mom will do it herself.

My mom has imparted countless belief systems in my core, but, much to the chagrin of Greg, nothing has been as deeply embedded in my soul as a complete aversion to free stuff. While I'll take free samples at the grocery store or accept free clothes that my sisters are getting rid of anyway, I have a hard time asking loved ones for help with a move or a discount on an item at their shop that I 100% cannot afford but want to purchase to support them. I'd rather buy it and develop an ulcer for a few weeks because I just spent all of my rent money on a vase.

In my mind, everything is tit for tat. If someone does me a favor, I believe that the countdown is set for me to reciprocate it the second I receive the support. And, knowing me, I'll have anxiety for months waiting for the other person to call in the favor. If I do take people up on their offer for free stuff, who knows what will happen to me at a later. So, I get a free dinner, but is that going to be worth it when three weeks later the person who comped my meal asks me to help them transport a dead body across state lines? I really don't think so.

Instead, I'd rather go into debt while I unnecessarily pay full price for everything in life and let my anxiety win. I think my mom would be proud.